A week of links

Links this week:

  1. David Barash reviews some books taking an evolutionary perspective on reproduction. (HT: Andrea Castillo) Barash is also one of our speakers at the forthcoming Cooperation and Conflict in the Family Conference.
  2. A cut from the Econtalk interview with Tyler Cowen. Conscientiousness will become more important in response to increasing opportunities for self-improvement.
  3. Behavioural economists did not discover irrationality. And while we’re at it, let’s start calling it behavioural science.
  4. How much species diversity was there at the time of Home erectus? I love it that such a simple yet obvious consideration can completely change the way of looking at something. (HT: Daniel Lende)

2 comments

  1. One favour to ask. I completely agree with you that Behavioural Economics should be called Behavioural Science. But

    1) We don’t really to decide what things are called. Darwin only used the word “evolution” a handful of times.

    2) It is a very valuable term as a Trojan Horse. If I want to get people studying for MBAs, say, or people in finance, to take behavioural science seriously, anything with the word “economics” in it will get their attention: anything with the word “psychology” in it, by contrast, will probably make them think of couches and hypnosis.

    3) Since economics has become a dominant ideology in business and policy-making, and since one pressing job for behavioural science is to encourage people in such positions of influence to incorporate behavioural science into their thinking, any name which suggests that their pre-existing model (in which they have already invested an immense amount of thought and effort) needs be *improved* will be more successful than any head-on assault which suggests their model is wrong and needs to be *replaced*. After all, loss aversion and the endowment effect apply to ideas as well as things. There is hence nothing wrong with sugaring this pill if it helps people swallow it. It is simply easier to switch from “economics” to “behavioural economics” than it is to give up “economics” entirely – just as it is easier to switch from cigarettes to e-cigarettes than it is to give up smoking completely.

    So, As a definition, “behavioural economics” is rather dodgy; but as a rebranding effort, it is genius.

    I work in advertising not academia. For a mixture of principled and self-interested reasons I would like behavioural science to have an influence commensurate with its importance. If that means it’s sometimes called something different, it’s a trade-off I can easily accept. But it is monstrously unfair to those people in psychology and behavioural science who must sometimes feel the baton has being snatched from them within sight of the finishing line.

    1. All fair points. I know plenty of economists who are interested in “behavioural economics”, but who might not be as interested in “behavioural science”. And given my belief that any systematic changes to economics will ultimately come from the inside, anything that gets more economists to take behavioural science seriously must have some value.

      Apart from the credit point, my other concern about calling it behavioural economics comes from the insular nature of much behavioural and experimental economics research. They will quote other papers in economics journals, almost oblivious to the research in psychology and, increasingly, evolutionary biology on essentially the same problems.

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